The bald eagle is one of North America’s largest raptors, its wingspan stretching as wide as 8 feet. It lives on coasts, lakes and rivers from Alaska to Northern Mexico, migrating south in the winter only if necessary. One of eight fish eagles, its primary food source is fish, often stolen from other birds, but it also feeds on carrion, water fowl and small mammals.
Pairs mate for life, which averages around 25 years in the wild and often reuse nests, situated on rocks or in trees and as large as 8 feet across and 11 feet deep. Females usually produce 1-3 eggs per year. The young remain in the nest for 10-11 weeks and are aggressively competitive. They gain the species’ distinctive white plumage as adults.
Once driven to the edge of extinction by DDT contamination of their prey and habitat, bald eagles are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Their status was upgraded to Threatened in 1995, and rebounding populations resulted in their removal from the endangered species list in 2007.
Before becoming endangered, the bald eagle was often hunted by farmers under the erroneous assumption that it posed a threat to the livestock and fur industries. As its numbers declined, it became apparent that it poses no threat and that it aids ranchers in controlling rodent and rabbit populations.
The U.S. Congress voted to make what was the called the “American Eagle” the national emblem on June 20, 1798, though the decision was not unanimous. Benjamin Franklin opposed the nomination, citing the bird’s lack of moral integrity and proposed the turkey as an alternative. A century later, ornithologist Cleveland Bent concurred, noting that the bird’s habit of piracy and carrion-eating “hardly inspire respect and certainly do not exemplify the best in American character.” Of course, by nature’s standards, the bald eagle is a proficient hunter well-adapted to its niche.April 05, 2011